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Sometime around 8:30 that evening on July 13, 1977, New York City was plunging into a blackout – the second time since the fabled Blackout Of 1965. This time a lightning strike was the culprit, according to Con-Ed. During a bad Thunderstorm, a substation along the Hudson River was hit, tripping two circuit breakers. A second lightning strike compounded the problem. After a third strike hit a power substation in Yonkers, the overheated circuits caused the power loss and left much of the Northeast in total darkness.
The result was swift – Airports closed down, people were trapped in elevators and general mayhem ensued. For every impromptu candlelight dinner at least one storefront was smashed, contents looted and arrests made. By the end, some 4,600 people were arrested, over a thousand fires were reported and the entire population of New York City stayed indoors, where it was sweltering from the ongoing heatwave, or walking around their neighborhoods where fears of another strike by Son of Sam were prevalent.
There’s never a good time for a disaster to hit – but this one seemed particularly tough. The city was going through a financial crisis and the cost of damage was estimated at roughy $300 million.
But eventually the power would come back on. Con-Ed called the incident an “act of god” and Mayor Abraham Beame called it an act of “gross negligence”.
And there was other news that day – reports that the North Koreans had shot down a U.S. helicopter, killing three Americans on board and capturing a fourth.
All that, and a lot more, except if you were in New York, where most of the radio and TV stations were out, except WCBS which was running on Diesel reserve power. That’s what July 13-14th sounded like 40 years ago.